The four-week running average of first-time claims, which smooths volatility and gives a better overall picture of the situation, fell to 346,750 from the previous week's revised average of 349,500.
In state programs and the federally funded emergency extensions, the total number of people claiming benefits for the week ending Feb. 23 rose to 5,619,860, an increase of 217,967 from the previous week. For the comparable week of 2012, there were 7,424,041 persons claiming benefits in all programs. The numbers are down because many people have found jobs while others have exhausted their benefits. At the height of the recession, more than 70 percent of out-of-work Americans were receiving benefits. Now less than 40 percent are, mostly as a function of exhausted benefits.
In the past 25 years, the best modern one-year period for first-time unemployment claims took place in the last year of the Clinton administration, when, from October 1999 to October 2000, claims were mostly in the 280,000-310,000 range.
Although unemployment claims are falling, the most recent monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week showed 12 million Americans are officially unemployed, 6.8 million are not in the labor force but say they want a job, and eight million are working part time because they can't get full-time work. That totals 26.8 million unemployed and underemployed Americans.